Cradle Snatchers

Date: 
2005-10-23

The Gomantak Times

When 17-year-old Nagamma Bedgini, a rag picker from Baina, decided to take her one month old baby to a Children's Home in Goa, she had a dream of a better future. But she never ever bargained for the nightmare that followed.

"I was told that my child would be looked after well in the home and whenever desired I would visit my child and even stay with her. I signed the papers, though the contents were never read out to me in Kannada (the only language she is speaks and understands) neither did I ask them to read out the contents to me", she informed. Why? "I never ever in my wildest dream thought that they would make me sign an affidavit stating that I am relinquishing my child and giving her up for adoption," she added.

Thankfully, when Nagamma came to know that her child was given for adoption without her real consent, NGO's got into the act and mounted pressure after which the child was returned to her.

Probably, when Nagamma was persuaded by Celsa Antao, President, Desterro Eves Mahila Mandal to take her one-month-old baby to Preet Mandir, Aldona, on July 30, 2005, she never realised that her "madam" was actually asking to sign an affidavit in Marathi stating, "…I am giving in writing that I am handing over my child on 30 July, 2005 to Preet Mandir, Goa. The organisation can give my daughter in thecountry/outside the country and to any person from any caste, religion who can rehabilitate her…. If I don't contact within two months then you have to take this as my legal affidavit in affirmation of which I am signing below." This despite the fact that Preet Mandir, Goa is not a licensed and recognised agency for adoption, as yet.

When this reporter contacted Celsa Antao, she said, "I am being unnecessarily blamed. I don't want to take anyone's child or harass anyone. I just wanted to give the child a home. When the mother came to me, she was distressed and eager to throw the child even in the dustbin. So I suggested that she should keep her child at Preet Mandir, to ensure that the child has a home." But when questioned about the affidavit that Nagamma alleged she was coaxed to sign, stating she was giving away her child for adoption, Celsa took the easy way out, "I don't know the technical side of it. At present I just know that it is a shelter home."

In another case, Sazin (name changed), an unwed mother had dreams of bringing up her child. But little did the illiterate Sazin realise that her new born baby would be taken away from the hospital after she was coaxed to sign few documents. When she asked to return her child, she was told that the child was dead.

Recently, a destitute woman Maya (name changed) from Vasco was approached by few "volunteers", who advised her that she should put her five-year-old and seven-year-old sons in Children's home to ensure a better and safe tomorrow. Homeless and jobless with three children, she is confused and unable to make a decision.

There are many like Nagamma, Sazin and Maya– illiterate, poor and single mothers– who are being persuaded by "friendly volunteers" to give away their children for rehabilitation (read as adoption) either to a Children's Home or directly to a family. And extreme poverty and the stigma of unwed motherhood often forces these young women to abandon their children at birth. "After the Baina demolition, majority of women are jobless and helpless. They have to struggle hard for survival and so fall easy victims to people who approach them with a promise of a better future for their child and some cash. We know for sure that some agencies and volunteers are exploiting the poverty of mothers staying in the slums and trying to lure the women to give away their kids," said Arun Pandey, ARZ, Baina.

Investigations also revealed that some private clinics are also involved in shoddy deals, though they are not supposed to place
children in adoption.

Legally, adopting a child in Goa is not easy. Lawyers and women activists opine that the prime reason for such illegal adoption rackets surviving is the fact that only Goans who come under Portuguese Civil Code are allowed to become legal guardians of a child.

Under the Civil Code, if a Goan Hindu wants to adopt, he can only do so only under the personal law, "Usages and Customs of Gentile Hindus". Under this law he can adopt only a male child and that too from a family member. That is not all. Under the Civil Code even though the parents became guardians of the child, their names cannot be entered as "parents" on the birth certificate of the child.

Hence, to bypass these restrictions, some got into a seedy baby purchase racket that came to light in October 1998 when the sale of a baby in a private nursing home in South Goa was proven. It was found that those wanting to buy/adopt/sell used to take the babies of very poor parents directly from the hospital and get a birth certificate issued with the names of the "buyer" parents.

This was also confirmed by Susan Furtado, lawyer and expert on adoption in Goa.

However, she admitted that such incidents have drastically gone down after the court of Justice F. I. Rebello of Bombay High Court, in a path-breaking judgement in 1999, stated that only after being a guardian for two years, could the parents be allowed to go for legal adoption.

Under Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) guidelines, respective state governments have to formulate laws for shelter homes to give away kids for adoption either under the Women and Children's Institutions Act, 1956 or Orphanage or Charitable Institutions (Supervision & Control) Act, 1960. According to the Secretary, Women and Child Development, in Goa, the state government follows the Orphanage or Charitable Institutions (Supervision & Control) Act, 1960.

However, Albertina Almeida, lawyer and activist contradicts this. "Orphanage or Charitable Institutions (Supervision & Control) Act, 1960 is not yet implemented in Goa. When the drafting of the Goa Children's Bill was going on, AK Wasnik, ex- Director, Department of Women and Child, claimed ignorance of this law and categorically stated that no registration of homes was being done under this Act. Then a suggestion was made that since the contents in law is outdated, it may be more sensible to have a better law in place as regards the supervision and control of children's homes. That is how there was a specific section in the Goa Children's Act 2003 regarding Children's homes, but a section on adoption was not incorporated", she argued.

Even the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 provides for adoption and is applicable to Goa. But the State government is required to frame rules to carry out the purposes of this Act, which includes giving the children from Apna Ghar in adoption. "Since Goa does not have any law on adoption as such, there was all the more need for State-specific rules to be framed under the Juvenile Justice Act, but even this has not yet happened", added Albertina.

Sources in the Women and Child Department revealed that only two organisations – Caritas and Matruchaya-- in Goa are licensed by CARA as adoption agencies on the recommendation of the state government.

However there is loophole even here in the light of the fact that the Goa government still hasn't framed any adoption rules either under the Juvenile Justice Act or under the Orphanage or Charitable Institutions (Supervision & Control) Act, 1960.

In fact the Goa government wrote to Caritas a couple of months ago asking them under which law were they giving the kids for adoption. Caritas replied that they were doing so under CARA guidelines and was willing to comply with any guidelines or directives of the state government.

When contacted, Rajani Verenkar, Social Welfare Officer, Department of Women and Child said, "Children's homes registered under section 6 of the Goa Children's Act, 2003, is a place which can take in a child for shelter and rehabilitation. But they can't give away kids for adoption. For this the home needs to be registered under CARA guidelines," she opined.

Further, CARA guidelines clearly states that in case of surrender of a child by a biological parent(s), the surrender document should be executed on a stamp paper in the presence of two responsible witnesses of whom one should be a responsible person who is not an employee of the organisation and documents should also be signed by a Notary or a Oath Commissioner. In case of a minor surrendering the child, at least one signature(s) of a parent (s), relative (s) of the minor should be obtained in the presence of the minor. However, these procedures are hardly followed in totality.

Investigations revealed that often facts and figures are distorted and residence address and age falsified to ensure that the child is taken away from the parent, all this in violation of Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which ensures that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents "unless such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child". Besides, the state government has the right to cross check all surrender documents and copies of these are to be sent to the Adoption Cell/Department. "But Goa doesn't have an Adoption Cell," stated Susan Furtado.

"I was not allowed to breast feed my child, she was bitten by an insect"- Nagamma Bedgini.

Preet Mandir, a shelter home in Goa and a supposedly reputed adoption agency in Pune, claims that it's actions are above board, but try telling it to a 17 year old mother whose child was taken away about to be given for adoption without her knowledge. Weekender asks PreetMandir some questions and carries their replies in full without any editing.

Nagamma Bedgini, 17-year-old, a rag picker was asked to sign an affidavit stating, "…I am giving in writing that I am handing over my child on 30 July, 2005 to Preet Mandir, Goa. The organisation can give my daughter in the country/outside the country and to any person from any caste, religion who can rehabilitate her…. If I don't contact within two months then you have to take this as my legal affidavit in affirmation of which I am signing below."

The reason for discarding her child according to the affidavit: "I couldn't accept the child because she is born out of an illicit relationship and so there is no social acceptance. As I want to get married in future and live a happily married life, I have expressed my thought to give up the child legally."

What is interesting to note here is that Preet Mandir, Goa is not registered under CARA nor do they have license to give children for adoption. Then how can they take a child for adoption from a minor girl? GT investigations reveal that they have already taken seven kids in the shelter home to give for adoption and have also started registering people interested in adopting these kids. When this reporter visited the home in Aldona, which got a license under Goa Children's Act on November 10, 2004 to run a shelter home for 100 children, a counsellor there said, "We are not giving kids for adoption as we are not registered under CARA guidelines".

Later when Nagamma expressed her desire to meet her daughter and breast feed her there, the Preet Mandir authorities refused. "I started crying profusely when they said that I can't even see my child. Finally, they took me inside and I was shocked to see my that some insect had bitten my child and she was bleeding," revealed Nagamma. She insisted on taking back her child, but was told that she can't take the child back.

That's when she met people at ARZ and revealed her tale. ARZ in turn got in touch with CRG, Bailancho Saad and Sandarsh organisation and approached Preet Mandir. Under pressure from the NGO's, Preet Mandir was forced to return Nagamma's child on August 11, 2005.

Nagamma got back her daughter but everyone is not as lucky as her. We faxed few questions to Preet Mandir with regard to Nagamma's case. YV Krishnamurthy, General Manager of Preet Mandir replied to the same.

Question: In the first affidavit, issued on June 16, 2005 you show Nagamma Bedgiri's age as 18 and in the final affidavit on August 3, 2005 you state her age as being 17. Why this discrepancy? And if she is a minor (as she herself claims to be) did you follow proper procedures before taking her child in your home?

Preet Mandir (PM) replies: The affidavit dated July 30 2005 (and not June 16, 2005 as stated under the query) is executed before the notary public by Nagamma Bed Giri, while she came to relinquish the child with our Goa unit. The subsequent affidavit dated August 3, 2005 deliberately states her age as seventeen years because she was deliberately asked to change her stand with regard to her age by five other NGOs whose representatives accompanied her along with her mother and demanded that the child be returned back.

This subsequent affidavit dated August 3, 2005 has been executed by Nagamma Bed Giri herself disclosing her age as seventeen years at the time of taking back the child. In view of these facts the variation in the age of Naggamma Bed Giri is entirely due to the executant and Preet Mandir is not accountable for the same. There was no reason for Preet Mandir to doubt the first Affidavit and the bonafide of the mother who came to relinquish the child.

Naggamma Bed Girl is educated upto 4th standard and she is not fluent in reading Marathi language accordingly, the version in Kannada language of Affidavit dated 3rd August 2005 is also accompanied with the affidavit dated 30th July, which she has duly been signed and then there was no reason to doubt the authority of the version as set out in the affidavit dated 30th July 2005.

BUT: Doesn't a respectable trust like Preet Mandir, working for the rehabilitation of orphan as well as women in need, have to maintain proper records and verify the age claims properly. If they are right (as they claim to be) do they really need to budge under pressure from NGO's and change Nagamma's age?

Question: You claim that you had a certificate of Directorate of Health Services (Cottage Hospital, Chicalim) which states Nagamma's age as 18 years, 4 months. But the date on the certificate is August 3, 2005. But the date on which you took Nagamma's baby, Goa is July 30, 2005 is prior to that date Did you make any effort to counter check her real age?

PM replies: Naggamma Bed Giri was suffering from some kind of disease, she was asked to obtain medical certificate for her medical fitness from competent doctor in order to maintain the medical history of the child. The certificate mentioned by you in the query is in that context The fact as stated under query again do not raise any doubt with regard to the age of Naggamma Bed Giri but the age stated in the Medical Certificate further confirms that she is a major, which is the first version dated July 30, 2005.

BUT: Nagamma claims that she had never produced this certificate nor was she ever taken to Cottage Hospital, Chicalim. So how can a certificate be produced without her knowledge. Besides, Naggamma Bed Giri is not suffering from any sort of disease. Yes, when she urged that she wanted to breast feed her child, she was taken for a blood test. Unfortunately, the poor soul didn't even realise that they were doing an HIV/AIDS test, as she was not even given pre or post counselling.

Question: Preet Mandir is a registered home under Goa Children's Act. You are not an adoption agency, then why did you ask Nagamma to sign papers stating "…I am giving in writing that I am handing over my child on 30 July, 2005 to Preet Mandir, Goa. The organisation can give my daughter in the country/outside the country and to any person from any caste, religion who can rehabilitate her…. If I don't contact within two months then you have to take this as my legal affidavit in affirmation of which I am signing below." (she knew nothing of what she was signing)

PM replies: As already stated under reply to the query No.1 above pending grant of certificate/ license under the Goa Children Act and the Rules framed there under, pursuant to our application dated 23rd October 2004 under Sec.6 of the said Act the declaration obtained form Naggamma Bed Giri is neither objectionable nor the same requires any further explanation in view of the fact that the interim license dated 10th November 2004 permitted us to start our activities as per prescribed laws. Hence the query-raised is already explained above in view of the reply to query No.1 and this query does not arise separately which is repeatedly in nature.

BUT: Secretary, Women and Child categorically stated that section (6) of Goa Children's Act doesn't deal with adoption. So how did Preet Mandir ask Nagamma to sign papers stating that the organisation can give my daughter in the country/outside the country and to any person from any caste, religion who can rehabilitate her.

Question: Our investigations reveal that Preet Mandir, Goa has already taken seven kids in the shelter home to give in for adoption and have also started registering people interested in adopting these kids. But can you really do this, especially since you are not a registered agency for adoption?

PM replies: Under your query Preet Mandir, Goa is described as shelter home, which is factually in-correct.

But: Rajani Verenkar, Social Welfare Officer, Department of Women and Child said, "Preet Mandir is only registered under section 6 of the Goa Children's Act, 2003, which gives them permission to take in a child for shelter and rehabilitation. But they can't take children for adoption under this Act". However, Preet Mandir neither denies nor accepts that it has already taken seven kids in the shelter home to give in for adoption and have also started registering people interested in adopting these kids. (ENDS)

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